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Don't Pull The Weeds!
July 21, 1996

MATTHEW 13:24-30, 36-43

I wish my mother had read this parable -- don't pull the weeds! When she sent me out to the garden to weed on those hot, humid Minnesota summer days with mosquitos swarming, attacking, biting, can you imagine her reaction if I had said, "Jesus says not to pull the weeds!" I suggest that the children and youth in the congregation today do not try it either! What did Jesus mean by this parable?

In Jesus' time, farmers had to contend with a weed called bearded darnel. When it began to sprout, the farmer could not distinguish it from wheat. By the time it was possible to differentiate between the two, the roots of the wheat and the weed were so intertwined the farmer could not pull up the weed without pulling up the wheat as well. Today, our farmers would selectively spray for the weed, but as there was no such spray in Jesus' day, the farmer instructed his workers, "Don't pull the weeds. Let them grow together with the wheat until the harvest at which time, the weeds can be collected and burned." What did Jesus intend to teach by telling this parable with its message, "Don't pull the weeds?" Let's look at four teachings this morning.

1) There is a hostile power actively seeking to destroy good seed. In the parable, the farmer attributed the weed in his field to an enemy. Evidently, enemies spread weeds in those days. Ancient Roman law forbids the planting of weeds in a neighbor's field, and a punishment is attached. Certainly there is a spiritual power seeking to destroy the good seed with weeds. Weeds constantly tempt you not to do your best or be your best, tempt you to compromise your principles, tempt you to take short cuts. Certainly the church is constantly being bombarded with weeds. The devil never sleeps, constantly seeking to divide God's people. His favorite tactic is to divide, to prevent unity and harmony.

2) How hard it is to distinguish between the weed and the seed! In the early stages, the weed looks like the seed. Don't be too quick to judge. Don't be too quick to decide what is a weed and what is a seed. In fact, it is not for us to decide who is a weed and who is a seed. I've had people at funerals ask me if I knew whether the deceased was a Christian. "Was he just a church member or was he really a Christian?" I reply, "Only God knows. It is not for me nor for you to decide." Some people are very quick to make judgments, to draw lines between people, between the good guys and the bad guys. Leave judgment up to God. None of us can experience another person's life. We easily see mistakes and bad decisions, but none of us have walked in the shoes of the other.

3) Even if you are sure of the difference between the weed and the seed, don't pull the weed! Premature pulling of the weed might destroy the seed as well. After all, we all have weeds growing in us. I don't know too many people who are only sprouting wheat with no weeds mixed in. If we get too industrious about weeding, we might find ourselves being uprooted! There are few things and few people who are completely evil or completely good.

Some people are real anxious to pull the weeds and protect the good seed. When Willis Tate was president of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he received a long letter from a mother who tried to protect her son from the weeds. She wanted the president to make sure her boy had a good roommate. She requested a roommate for her son who went to church, didn't use bad language, didn't smoke or drink, or wear a beard or beads! (This was before earrings!) She closed her letter with this, "The reason this is so important is that it is the first time my boy has been away from home, except for the three years he spent in the Marines."

When we studied this passage Thursday morning, George Meyer had the insight. "It's the presence of the weeds that make us stronger." Dealing with weeds, resisting temptation, learning the difference between good and bad seeds make us stronger. Living with a weedy roommate makes us stronger. Some parents try to protect their children from the weeds. They try to control the child's neighborhood and school environment. Some try to find a private school, thinking there are no weeds. In my first congregation back in Minnesota, there was a family who overprotected their first-born who happened to be a daughter. They enforced a strict curfew and controlled her dating. They pulled the weeds from her environment. As a result, when she graduated from high school, and moved to Minneapolis to work, she had no experience in dealing with the real world. She had no experience dealing with men. She was at a loss, and could not handle her first taste of freedom. In a few months, she was pregnant, and the father--a real stinkweed-- was long gone out of her life. In shame, she moved back home. Thankfully, her parents received her with love and forgiveness. She gave birth to a boy who was raised by her and her parents. Don't be too zealous to pull the weeds from your environment. The presence of weeds makes children stronger and better equipped to handle themselves in the real world.

However, on the other hand, there does come a time when the weeds have grown to the point where they must be pulled and burned in the fire. A particular problem of our free society is where to draw the line between freedom of speech and expression, and the rights of people, especially children, to grow up as good seeds. When does a society say no to child pornographers, drug dealers, advertisers and marketers of tobacco to minors? Protecting our children, and protecting our society, while allowing freedom of speech and freedom of the press, is a dilemma facing us today. I don't have any simple answers, but we must seek a way. I am both leery of moralistic crusaders, on one hand, who claim to know what is best for me; and I am intolerant of evil weeds who make a living destroying kids' lives! When do we allow the weed to grow, and when is it time to pull the weed, is the question.

4) There is and there will be judgment. This parable is clear, and the Bible as a whole affirms the reality of judgment. Weeds will be pulled and burned. Acts have consequences, realized in this life or in the life to come. God does judge. Judgment is a promise. We don't understand why the evil prosper. We wonder why the good seemingly die young, while the reprobate lives on. We are deeply alarmed by the terrorists who kill innocent people. But, the promise is: God does and will judge; if not to our satisfaction in this life, certainly in the life that is to come. Sometimes God's judgment is not hasty. Does God wait, so even the weeds will be redeemed?

We are impatient and fuss and fume about God's exasperating forbearance. Why does God put up with people who get children hooked, so they can sell them crack? Why does God allow crazies to blow up airplanes? Why does God allow weeds to flourish alongside the wheat? Take heart, take courage, there will be a judgment. The time table is in God's hands, not ours. But, God's time will come. The good, which often goes unnoticed, will receive its reward. The evil, which often seems to prosper, will be burned. The weeds will be pulled. That is the promise. The weeds call judgment a threat. The seeds welcome judgment as a promise. The farmer was glad for the harvest. The weeds were pulled and burned. The wheat was saved, and used for food or sold for a cash crop.

Judgment is not only a promise, however, but a sobering reality. Even the weeds in us will be pulled. Eternal life is a gift, a gift we do not earn, a gift of God's grace. But, the kind of relationship we will have with God in eternity is determined by how we live our lives on this earth. John, in his vision of the end times, wrote in Revelation 20:12, And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. The gift of salvation means that Jesus is standing there with us when the books are opened, and Jesus will say, "He's all right. Whatever penalties there are, I paid for them already. I took the punishment on myself. Let him in." Entrance into heaven is a gift of God's grace.

However, judgment means that the weeds will be pulled. The sobering question facing each of us is: when the weeds are pulled from your life, what will remain? When greed is pulled, when grudges, anger, and resentment are pulled, what will be left? If you're spending lots of time and energy on unproductive weeds, what attention are you giving to growing good seeds? When the weeds are pulled, will there only be a malnourished, scrawny crop of wheat to take into eternity?

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is ready to do damage control right now. The Holy Spirit is ready to do the uprooting of weeds right now. Let the Holy Spirit pull your weeds now. Salvation is your entrance into heaven. Sanctification is the pulling of the weeds. Receive Christ as your Savior to be saved. Give your life completely to the Holy Spirit to be sanctified. Give control of your crop to the Holy Spirit. Ask God to pull the weeds now. Don't wait for judgment when the wheat may be damaged. Ask the Holy Spirit to pull the weeds now, while there is time to nurture the good seeds in your life.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris